Our View: Mike Cowan has received one of the biggest honors among Arizona’s public educators — and at the same time he has been handed a basketful of thorny challenges — as he will become the next superintendent of the Mesa Unified School District.
Mike Cowan has received one of the biggest honors among Arizona’s public educators — and at the same time he has been handed a basketful of thorny challenges — as he will become the next superintendent of the Mesa Unified School District.
The Mesa school board unanimously confirmed Cowan last week after he was handpicked by outgoing superintendent Debra Duvall. Board members are convinced the five years that Cowan spent as Duvall’s top assistant have prepared him to manage the state’s largest K-12 system.
Just following in Duvall’s footsteps alone would be formidable. Duvall has ably carried on Mesa’s rich tradition of excellence and has represented the district in a professional and yet passionate manner. The district’s 70,000 students and their families will rightly hold Cowan to similar high standards appropriate for his role as chief executive of the city’s single largest employer.
But Cowan’s burden will be even greater as he seeks to protect the legacy of Mesa Public Schools. Hammered by revenue losses from a declining student enrollment and likely state budget reductions, the Mesa district will have to cut its own $433 million in spending somewhere between 7 percent to 20 percent. And that scenario assumes Mesa voters renew a $35.6 million spending override this fall, an outcome not as predictable as it has been in the past.
After losing 4,000 students since 2004 and a predicted 2,000 more next year, the district will inevitably have to revisit the question of whether to close one or more schools. Cowan’s handling of that emotionally loaded topic will provide immediate insight into how effective he will be as the next district superintendent and a community leader.